A few words from your Wesley Nurse: Sun Safety

By Rhonda Hunnicutt, RN, Wesley Nurse

We always need sunscreen! According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, daily use of sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15 (but higher is better) reduces the risk of skin cancers by as much as 40-50 percent. Again, some of my favorite nursing words to pass along … prevention and avoidance.

The damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is cumulative and can occur whenever our skin is exposed to damaging rays. Most of us are at an age where the sun damage that occurred to our skin previously now has the risk of manifesting as some type of skin cancer. Even people with darker pigmentation can still develop skin cancers. Though I try to avoid being in the sun without protection like the plague, in my younger days I would ride horses or play outside all day, and of course, my fair skin would burn.

I have been lucky that I've only had a basal cell carcinoma (cancer). Sadly I've known friends and family members who have battled the skin cancer melanoma – some successfully, and some not. A family friend of mine was diagnosed with melanoma, and by the grace of God, she is still with us today. My grandmother had melanoma that spread, and she eventually lost her battle with cancer.

When I worked with an oncologist, we had a patient who was an avid tanning bed enthusiast. She had melanoma and was undergoing radiation/chemotherapy but amazingly did not plan to stop tanning. Now some might cringe a bit, but I want to educate as many as I can on the dangers of UV damage … avoid tanning beds! Or as some refer to them, 'tanning coffins.' It is not a theory; it's been proven that tanning beds increase your risk of cancer. Each year, over 400,000 new cases of skin cancer are linked to indoor tanning. The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists UV-emitting tanning devices as carcinogenic to humans.

Recently, there has been some backlash or criticism on using self-tanners. Though I haven't found any research to substantiate the claims, I did find some interesting information. There is a 'sun-tanning' pill on the market containing a chemical compound called 'canthaxanthin' that can contribute to liver damage and is not approved by the FDA. Also, suntan mists can be unsafe and can be inhaled if precautions are not followed. The most common self-tanners contain an FDA-approved chemical called dihydroxyacetone, which reacts with cells on the skin's surface to create the illusion of a suntan. Some contain sunscreen but only last a limited time – two to three hours usually. Bottom line – tanning in the sun or using self-tanner does not provide sun protection so always use sunscreen.

Please visit www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts to learn about skin cancer, tanning, UV radiation, and more.

Until next time, be well and be blessed.

Rhonda Hunnicutt, RN, is a Wesley Nurse with Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. Methodist Healthcare Ministries' Wesley Nurse program is a faith-based, holistic health and wellness program committed to serving the least-served through education, health promotion and collaboration with individuals and communities to achieve improved wellness through self-empowerment. Learn more at www.mhm.org/programs/health-ministries